While we were up in Edinburgh a few weeks ago, we visited the Scottish National Trust’s Georgian House Museum at 7 Charlotte Square in the heart of the “New Town”. The adjacent property (No. 6), which is also owned by the Trust, is Bute House, which is the official residence of the Scottish First Minister.
The house was built in 1796 and it was first occupied by John Lamont, 8th Chief of the Clan Lamont, who lived here with his family until 1815. There were only four subsequent owners before the house, along with No.s 5 and 6, was bequeathed to the Scottish National Trust in 1956 on the death of the last owner, the 5th Marquess of Bute, in lieu of death duties.
The basement and the ground and first floors of the house have been restored to show how they would have looked when it was first occupied. Visitors explore on their own as the Trust doesn’t give guided tours, but there are room guides who are very happy to answer any questions about the house, it’s occupants and life in Edinburgh during the Georgian period. There’s an introductory video shown in the basement which gives the historical and social background.
The house is part of a terrace on the north side of the square that was designed by the famous Scottish architect Robert Adam. As was the fashion, the terrace is designed to look as if it was one complete “palace” influenced by the work of the Italian architect, Andrea Palladio. However, it’s actually made up of a number of individual houses, all with their own entrances.
It’s actually quite deceptive as the outside decor and ornamentation doesn’t reflect the way the terrace is divided up into individual houses. So looking at the picture below of the centre of the terrace, it seems as if it is one large symmetrical property made up of 7 bays – 3 bays in the centre under the triangular pediment supported with columns with two bays to either side, the outermost bays also with columns. In fact only the middle 3 bays belong to the central property. The two bays on either side belong to the adjacent properties (the Georgian house museum, at No. 7 on the left) which also comprise 3 bays.
The exterior of the house is much grander than the Georgian House museum in Dublin that we visited least year and which was part of a development aimed at the middle class. The houses on Charlotte Square were meant for the nobility such as John Lamont, part of the Scottish landed aristocracy. However, he seems to have been living somewhat above his means and didn’t have enough money to decorate the house as much as he would probably had liked. The inside of Georgian houses such as these was a “blank canvas”. The purchaser had to specify what “extras” they wanted such as decorative mouldings, cornices and ceilings, all of which would come at a price. However the ceilings and walls inside No 7 are relatively plain reflecting the Lamont’s strained budget.
My favourite two rooms were the kitchen in the Basement and the Drawing Room on the first floor. The Trust have attempted to recreate a Georgian kitchen with all the appropriate pots, pans and other utensils and there’s an open range fire (not the original)with a hot air powered spit turner. The Drawing Room, which was the main room used to entertain visitors, is on the first floor – the “piano nobile”. It’s a large room across the full width of the house with the large windows overlooking the square. In Lamont’s time it would have overlooked a building site as the square was still a work in progress when they moved in. Although the ceiling is relatively plain, there is a decorated cornice and grand chandelier.